BMW wants customers to pay a subscription fee to use features already installed in the car
- In July, BMW will roll out a sweeping software update that includes digital personalisation and on-demand functions.
- The automaker envisions a future where people will subscribe to existing features on their cars, such as a heated steering wheel or adaptive cruise control.
- The software will be compatible with BMWs with the automaker's latest Operating System 7, as well as the 2021 BMW 5 Series.
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In July, BMW plans to launch a comprehensive software update on compatible cars that includes digital personalisation and on-demand functions.
The way it works, the automaker explained via a press release, is that BMW will provide the car's necessary hardware and software during assembly so that, later on, it can be activated according to the buyer's preference.
BMW envisions a situation where, for example, if one customer wanted a feature that wasn't requested when they bought the car, it can be added afterward. And if that car came into new ownership with someone else, that new owner could also activate the features that they want.
- CNN better details this subscription service by giving tech features - adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, adaptive suspension - and comfort features - a heated steering wheel - as examples.
"We offer maximum flexibility and peace of mind to our customers when it comes to choosing and using their optional equipment in their BMWs, whether this BMW is new or used," a BMW spokesperson told Techcrunch.
"In the near future, we will not only be able to add more functions here, but we will also be able to add even more flexibility for our customers with temporary bookings so booking of options for three years, for one year, or even shorter periods of time, like a few months," the spokesperson continued.
BMW didn't immediately respond to Business Insider's inquiries of when and in which markets customers can expect these on-demand functions and digital personalisation to roll out.
According to CNN, the company said that hypothetically a first owner could purchase a three-year subscription to heated seats, which is how long that person would expect to keep the car. Then, the next owner could decide for themselves if they wanted to subscribe to the heated seats, too.
This, of course, requires the car to already have the feature's hardware built-in from the factory, such as the required sensors for adaptive cruise control or the heating elements in a seat or steering wheel. BMW casts the idea in a very favourable light in its press release, stating that it is "strengthening selection and personalisation for customers, offering them maximum flexibility."
Yet, this move can also be seen as the start of major automakers' dangerous slide into the territory of microtransactions. Microtransactions, known and hated in the gaming world as in-game purchases, have infuriated players by essentially charging them more money to enjoy a game they already bought.
- This BMW could end up being similar. Your car would have all the necessary hardware already included. You would still pay for the gas to haul it all around. But you would also have to pay BMW a subscription fee just for it to turn the features on. What happens if, after a while, the cost of the subscription outpaces the price of the feature itself?
Then you have to consider what happens in the used-car market. Will the new owner also be on the hook for paying for now-outdated hardware?
Tesla famously offers over-the-air features, but as Jalopnik reported in February, this isn't always a perfect process from owner to owner. A customer, according to the outlet, bought a used Tesla Model S that was equipped with Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self Driving Capability - features totaling about $8,000 (R134,000) - only to find that both were removed from the car during a software update without his permission.
- This was because, as Tesla customer support told the customer, "Tesla has recently identified instances of customers being incorrectly configured for Autopilot versions that they did not pay for. Since, there was an audit done to correct these instances. Your vehicle is one of the vehicles that was incorrectly configured for Autopilot."
There are, as Jalopnik pointed out, entire forum threads dedicated to this happening to other people.
It does state in its press release that the new 5 Series, as well as every BMW that will be built after July 2020, will be compatible with the upgrade. The cars just need the automaker's latest Operating System 7.
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